Republished from July, 2012 with some updating
Besides being a writer, I’m a woman, a wife, mother, grandmother and a great grandmother. And I’m a human being, an American, a daughter of pioneers. My great grandmother on my mother’s side went west with her Victorian parents when she was 13. She was born in 1865 soon after the end of the Civil War. She married a lawman in Winfield, Kansas and they had four daughters. My grandmother lived in Montana after her marriage until they moved to Arkansas. Here she rode side saddle and carried a 22 revolver. I was told she was quite fearless as a young woman. One of her sisters went to work for the Winfield Newspaper when that was not really the thing a woman did. Another was a true rebel, what today might be called a flower child. So it is in my blood to do what I do.
Over the past 30 years that I’ve written and been published, I’ve seen the role of women in novels and stories evolve from the meek to the mighty. Some could say this has happened much too slowly, some could add that the female role has become a bit ridiculous in some instances. Women who fight and conquer monsters might seem to some to be outrageously impossible. Yet isn’t that what has been done since that day in 1920 when the lowly female of the species was at last allowed to cast her vote? It was once outrageously impossible. A monster which women conquered.
I can’t help but point out, being a writer of much that is western in fiction and non fiction, that the first time women were allowed to vote and hold public office took place in Wyoming as early as 1858. I have long wondered why this happened there, of all places. Could it be that because women were in such short supply on the western frontier, they were deemed more important? Or more probably, there weren’t any men who would consider holding these offices, and so it fell to women. Let’s hope it was because the women were stronger and more stubborn, having survived the challenges involved in going west and living on the frontier.
I know that is true of such job offerings as post masters of small towns on the early frontier. The pay was so small that no man would apply for the job. It was also work that could be done from home while tending to the washing and ironing, the scrubbing and cooking, the birthing and raising of children. Today, women are fulfilling all sorts of jobs, not because it’s easy, but because it’s difficult.
My favorite quote, and here again I’m paraphrasing: Women who behave don’t make history. In other words, if we don’t raise all holy Ned, then our names and our deeds will soon be forgotten. Take my very distant cousin, Clara Barton. She did what most other women of her day disapproved of. She cared for the sick, including the male of the species. My grandmother was so infuriated by such actions that she would not lay claim to our relationship to this courageous woman who began the Red Cross in this country. Barton dedicated her life to seeing that soldiers and indeed all those who fell ill or were injured, received the care they deserved.
Women who move beyond the limits set by their culture often gain other women’s disapproval. For instance, Mabel Dodge, who dared marry the man she loved who happened to be not only a Tewa Indian, but a man who worked as her chauffeur. She and her husband went on to build The Sagebrush Inn in Taos, New Mexico.
My book, Fly With The Mourning Dove, is about a strong and determined woman, who from early childhood enjoyed the freedom of ranch life. A difficult life lived on the high desert of New Mexico where women were breaking out of the mold in so many ways. Edna Smith Hiller, who lived the life I wrote about, faced plenty of adversity, much of which the book doesn’t touch on. During her 92nd and 93rd year, she shared her stories with me, the great adventures of her life, going back to the age of six. Her memories were precise, her stories amazing, and she recalled so much of the early Anglo settlements in New Mexico around Taos and Santa Fe. This admirable and amazing woman is also a distant cousin. At 97 she handed over the management of her ranches to her daughter and son-in-law. Until she passed away last year, a few months short of her 100th birthday, Edna had a hand in managing two of the ranches that have been in her family since the homesteading days after World War I. As far as Anglos and this United States are concerned, New Mexico is young compared to other states.
My header reads Sexy Dark and Gritty stories of Gutsy women from all walks of life. When all I wrote were western historical novels, it read Stories of Gutsy women who won the west, but now that I’ve branched out into women’s fiction of a contemporary and recent nature, we’ve changed that a tad so it includes all my fiction and nonfiction, including the new mystery series.
Women like those who were courageous and strong enough to settle unknown country, build homes, families, churches, businesses, molded our lives in so many ways, for which we should all be grateful. We are who we are because of these women.
Velda, although I never aspired to be a nurse, Clara Barton’s biography fired me up as a girl. That’s so interesting that she’s a relation of yours. Great post. I’ve added you to my favorite site, and look forward to reading more, both online and in print. Maybe we’ll run into each other at WWW conf in October?
It is always inspiring to read about strong woman who just cared and moved forward, not for themselves or to be noticed, but for the betterment of others. Great post.
You come from strong stock! Even if I hadn’t read this, I already knew you are an amazing gal!
I think it’s a special call to write the history of women. Congratulations.
Any of us who write need to remember your words, Velda, and create strong women characters who balance their roles as women with all those qualities that real women exhibit everyday. As writers, we can change the future by giving every girl who reads our works a realistic image of what being a woman really means. Thanks for this post.
Interesting and much needed celebration of women’s history. Well done.
Thank you, Jack. I appreciate the input from you. It’s great to occasionally hear from the male of the species.